Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: March 31

Let's get to it:

Will Alejandro Villanueva make the 53-man roster this season? If not on offense, why not as a defensive lineman?

How about we give Alejandro Villanueva more than 10 minutes to learn one position and hone his skills to play it before moving him somewhere else? Villanueva hasn't even spent a single day in a training camp setting with the Steelers, and fans are moving him all over the place. He's big, athletic, has long arms, and good feet. Add in his size – 6-foot-9, 280 pounds-and-growing – and that has the makings of a solid offensive tackle prospect. I understand fans are rooting hard for Villanueva to succeed, but believe me, so are the Steelers, and that's why they're trying him on offense. He already has been cut by one NFL team that thought he was a defensive lineman.

With an opening created at LOLB why not try Jarvis Jones there rather than ROLB, assuming that's where his strong side was at Georgia?

This is what I believe is going to happen: Jarvis Jones is at ROLB, with James Harrison behind him; and Arthur Moats is at LOLB when the season opens and until whomever the Steelers draft is ready to play. I understand this is a generalization, that guys are going to be moved around somewhat based on personnel grouping, strengths of the particular opponent, etc., but I believe it shakes out similarly to the way it did in 2007. That was the year Harrison emerged as the full-time starter at ROLB in his fourth NFL season, and veteran Clark Haggans started all 16 games at LOLB but was giving up playing time as the season progressed to LaMarr Woodley.

JAMES  JOHNSON from Loganville, GA:
How much patience do you see Keith Butler having with Jarvis Jones assuming he is the starter coming out of camp before turning to Harrison full-time ?

One more time, with feeling: The Steelers are heavily invested in Jarvis Jones, and the team needs him to become a player worthy of being a first-round NFL draft pick; they need him to flash the pass-rush abilities that allowed him to lead the NCAA in sacks for two straight years. James Harrison no longer can play linebacker full-time and be effective over the course of an entire season. If the Steelers try him in that role, his body will break down before the end of the season. James Harrison is not Superman. Maybe Batman, but not Superman.

I would like to know your opinion of the Steelers' best-ever wide receiver and running back to settle our disagreement.

I'm not comfortable having the final say in this, but I will accommodate you with my opinion. The best running back is Franco Harris, about whom Art Rooney Sr. once said, "We didn't win much until he got here, and then after he did we didn't lose very often." The best receiver is a tougher proposition, because there are two already in the Hall of Fame – Lynn Swann and John Stallworth – and a third guy – Hines Ward – is the most productive in franchise history. Purely a personal preference: I'm going with Stallworth, whose size and speed was special and who didn't have the luxury of getting to play vs. the relaxed pass defense rules of the 2000s. But I also believe it's equally easy to argue for either Swann or Ward.

What are your thoughts on the nose tackle position? I feel as though the Steelers have not had the same defense since Casey Hampton was there plugging up the middle for so many years. Steve McLendon and Cam Thomas didn't look fit for the part last year. What are your thoughts on Dan McCullers, and do you see him maybe moving to a starting position this year? His pure size is incredible.

Casey Hampton was a great player, but I don't think it's valid to attribute the overall success of that defense to his presence alone. The Steelers defense hasn't been the same since Hampton's career ended, but that event also coincided with the departures of James Farrior and Aaron Smith, with LaMarr Woodley becoming injury prone, with Ike Taylor and Brett Keisel and Troy Polamalu getting older, and with the rules being changed to de-fang to some degree the unit's physical style. I will admit that Steve McLendon is no Casey Hampton, but I would argue that he's a competent defensive lineman. All that said, I think you and all Steelers fans are going to be impressed when they get their first look at the 2015 version of Daniel McCullers. Let's just say he hasn't been spending a lot of time so far this offseason sprawled on a couch eating cookies.

Being from the West Coast, what is it going to take to finally get the team to play well when traveling out west?

This would be the season to figure that out, what with trips to Seattle, San Diego, and Kansas City on the schedule. I would try leaving for games on the West Coast on Friday afternoons instead of Saturday afternoon. More time to work the kinks out from a long flight. Maybe the Steelers' request to the league to have the Seattle and San Diego games scheduled on consecutive weekends is granted, and that helps somewhat as well.

What is the rationale behind having a roster limit of 53 players but only allowing 46 to be active on game day? It seems there exists enough talent to expand the roster.

The reason behind having 53 players on the roster but only 46 active on game day is competitive fairness. Here's the idea behind it: Every NFL team has to deal with injuries over the course of a season, and so some players among the 53 are going to be incapacitated and unable to play on a week-by-week basis. If all players on the roster were active for every game, that could result in a scenario where one team has 52 healthy players facing another team with only 47 healthy players. NFL owners see the inactive list as an effort to eliminate an unfair advantage on game day that would come from one team having greater numbers.

Because the Steelers won the last two College All-Star games back in the 1970s, do you think the NFL should consider bringing that exhibition back? And in your opinion, is there a chance we could see the Steelers playing interleague exhibition games against some CFL teams, or even European teams, sometime in near future?

The concept of the College All-Star Game would never fly in today's NFL. For the younger generation, the College All-Star Game pitted a squad of the best-NFL-rookies-to-be vs. the NFL's defending champions in an exhibition game played before the start of the year's preseason. For the Steelers in the summers of 1975 and 1976, the College All-Star Game was the first of SEVEN exhibition games. Today, the best college players about to enter the NFL would never agree to a meaningless game against the defending NFL champions because of the risk of injury. NFL teams would never go for it either, because they want their top draft picks in training camp with them and not preparing for some game that doesn't count. Plus, the risk of injury. The trend in the NFL is away from exhibition-type football, mainly because of injuries, and teams don't need the money as they did back in the days of barnstorming in the preseason.

Tim Tebow is presently without a contract. Bruce Gradkowski is, let's say, mediocre at best, and Landry Jones was a wasted pick . If Ben Roethlisberger, God forbid, goes down with an injury, would it not make sense to carry a more mobile quarterback? At least, Tebow could be an H-back or a utility tight end on the roster to increase his value, unlike the other two backup quarterbacks.

Great idea. Just two questions: First, if Bruce Gradkowski "is, let's say, mediocre at best, and Landry Jones was a wasted pick," and yet no other NFL teams want Tebow as a quarterback or an H-back or a utility tight end and hasn't for a couple of years, what does that make him? And to emphasize the point about Tebow not being NFL caliber, here are just some of the quarterbacks currently on NFL rosters: Jimmy Clausen, Zac Dysert, Thad Lewis, Matt McGloin, Jordan Palmer, Tom Savage, Matt Sims, and Tyrod Taylor. The second question: Where are you on the issue of moving Ryan Shazier to safety?

Do the Steelers place a higher value on the compensatory pick they could get for losing a Brice McCain than they do the value any possible free agent could bring to the team? Was that potential compensatory pick the reason the Steelers didn't offer a contract to either of the unrestricted free agent cornerbacks who visited?

I believe the Steelers weigh each situation individually. For example, in the case with Mike Wallace, the contract he was going to get on the open market, their depth chart at that position, and the likely third-round compensatory pick they would get if he signed elsewhere made that one a no-brainer. During the 2014 offseason, the Steelers signed Mike Mitchell, Cam Thomas, Arthur Moats, and Darrius Heyward-Bey – all of whom fell into the compensatory pick formula – and regardless of what you might think of those additions, those additions show the team isn't obsessed with accumulating compensatory draft picks. Lastly, Patrick Robinson was offered a contract by the Steelers during his visit here. He didn't accept their offer, but there was an offer.

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